The Battle of Barnet (and events leading up to it)
The year 1471 should be remembered far more in English history than it is.
At that time the country had two kings fighting for the throne.
Henry VI of the house of Lancaster, who had inherited the throne as an infant, and Edward IV of the house of York, who had usurped the throne and held Henry prisoner. They each had a son(both called Edward), who had an equal right to become the future king.
This was because both houses had descended from the same king, (Edward III).
The outcome of all this would be decided at a place called Hadley, to the North of London.

When King Edward met Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (who represented Henry) on the battlefield of Barnet on Easter Sunday 1471, it was not only the two houses that were fighting each other but two old friends who had shared much in life.

Neville was the second richest man in England (only the king had more wealth) and with his riches he had helped Edward to depose Henry and take the throne. The Earl had been a great friend to Edward's father,Richard Duke of York,and had aided him in his battles against the followers of the Lancastrian Red Rose until the Dukes death at The Battle of Wakefield in 1460.

Warwick was soon advising the young Edward and they had a close relationship during the early years of his reign. But King Edward was his own man who had proved himself in battles and decisions at court and he became even more distant when he found a new queen. Her name was Elizabeth Woodville and she eventually turned her husband against his old friend.
King Edward IV
Elizabeth Woodville
Richard Duke of Warwick
Warwick was a shrewd and devious man,he once held two Kings of England in his power at the same time.
Henry VI and Edward IV both fell under his control in 1469) and he had another plan to make himself more powerful. Edward's younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, was jealous of the king and in 1469 he married Warwick's eldest daughter Isabel.
The Duke now had a chance to be "The Kingmaker" if he could get Clarence onto the throne. With this in mind they raised an army against the king which ended in defeat. They both headed for what they saw as the safety of France.
The king declared Warwick and Clarence traitors and once more Edward was in control of the country.
         King Henry VI   Badge of the Prince of Wales Margaret D'Anjou
Of course The Duke of Clarence was none too pleased with Warwick's plans, as he would lose his chance of the throne. Soon he would get his revenge.
The Lancastrian's planned their invasion of England.
By September 1470 they were ready.

They landed a force in southern England and headed inland gathering more troops on the way. Edward was taken unawares as he and his forces were putting down a rebellion in the north. When he heard of Warwick's return he headed for London. But at Doncaster he was told that a large part of his army led, by The Marquis of Montagu, (Warwick's brother), had changed sides and would now be fighting against him. Trapped, and without enough men to win a battle, Edward, with his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, decided it was better to run and fight another day.
They made for Bruges and his old friend Louis de la Gruthuse, the Governor of Holland. With Edward no longer in the country the land was in chaos. Order had to be restored. Warwick did this by putting Henry back on the throne, but at his coronation it was noticed that many of the Lords and knights present wore the bear and ragged staff badge of Warwick. Once the old king was dead the Earls daughter would be queen, and he would again be a leading figure at court.

Although the Lancastrians had taken over London they had allowed Edward's wife to keep the sanctuary of Westminster. Here in November 1470 she gave birth to a son, (Edward). Within six months, with the country having two kings and two heirs apparent , a conclusion would be reached on a common just outside Barnet.

 Warwick visits Henry VI in the Tower of London
King Edward had wasted no time in building an invasion army during his absence and by early March 1471 he had enough men to set sail for his homeland and landed at the Humber on the 14th March.  
It did not take long for this news to reach Warwick and he began recruiting troops at Coventry ready for the battle that surely was to come. Meanwhile Edward headed for York, gathering men at arms on the way. From there he went to Coventry to confront Warwick and challenged him to a fight.

This the Earl rejected, as he was waiting for The Duke of Clarence to arrive with reinforcements. Edward did not want to wait and marched away to meet his bother Clarence in Battle. Instead of fighting, however, the three brothers, Edward, Clarence and Richard forgot their differences and the York family was again united. With their large force they marched into London and Henry VI was returned to the tower. He did not know that he only had six weeks to live.

Warwick waited within the walls of Coventry after Edward's sudden departure until The Earl of Oxford, The Marquis Montagu and The Duke of Exeter had joined him. Then he was satisfied that their combined strength was enough to go into in battle. They followed Edward south with a large and well provisioned artillery train and on Good Friday April 12th 1471 Warwick's Lancastrian army marched to St Albans and camped on the outskirts.
There had already been two battles there during the last few years and the people of the town must have been terrified that it was going to happen again.

Barnet is set on a plateau and it was (and still is) one of the most important towns in southern England.
Within a couple of hundred years of the battle Barnet would be full of wagons, horses and drovers, with the town full of inns and Alehouses as it became a leading coach stop.

At the time of Edwards trek up Barnet hill (there is a debate here which will be discussed later) there was possibly only about five or six inns in the town.
There was The George, The White Swan, The Cardinals Hat, The Antelope, The Swan on the Hoop and The Woolsack. These were all almost next to each other. Over 10,000 men, thirsty from all the work they had done would have been a tight squeeze in six taverns(over 1600 in each!). So the King decided not to stop in the town but to encamp on the other side of it at the southern edge of Hadley common. Whether that decision was made because he did not want to let his men loose in the town or that he wanted them to have a clear head for the fight in the morning, it was the right one. The king liked a drink himself so perhaps he had his own supply!

The locals probably hoped that the Yorkists would be victorious. They did not want rampaging Lancastrians heading south leaving the town and the taverns at their mercy. Everything would have been stolen and the town would have been full of drunken soldiers with their minds on plundering and pillaging anything in their path. By marching his troops straight through the town without stopping perhaps means that he knew where he was going as he must have traveled this road many times in his journeys to the north.

Any story of the battle will tell you that Edward's line had his brother,18-year-old Richard, Duke of Gloucester's men extended hundreds of yards too far to the East. He was unaware that there was no enemy to his front, just a muddy bog. It may be that he had to organise his troops once they had reached Barnet. If it was dark it would have been easy to set up the wrong line of attack in the pitch black. Also, if it was dark no one would make a light for fear of being seen by the other side. They might not have known they were in the wrong position.
This would not matter too much as in the morning light it would take no time to re-adjust the formation. They did not know that fate and the weather were to be the deciding factors in this battle.

Take a walk up Barnet High Street today, and when you reach the edge of Hadley Common it is quite easy to imagine the area when it was flat, with no houses or buildings in the way. If you stand at the southern end of the common, where Edward drew up his forces, you cannot see the Hadley monument.
This is roughly where Warwick drew up his forces. As neither side seemed to have an idea of the position of the other on the field it is hard to imagine how two forces of so many men could not hear each other, even if visibility was nil in the total darkness. Warwick had the protection of a high hedge that ran across both roads. All that night the Lancastrians bombarded the men of York with artillery fire.
This could have been from around the fortified site of the Old Fold Manor, using the moat around the house as part of their defences.
Most of the guns would have been trained on the position where the two roads meet. Warwick would have known that this was a good position for Edward's troops to be in and a few of them were either killed or wounded by these hopeful shots. The king moved his troops forward spending the night under orders to be silent, hoping the Lancastrians would not shorten their range. How thousands of men in armour are supposed to stay quiet all night is hard to imagine and it is another strange thing to stand on the common and wonder how this was achieved.

Of course the buildings that now surround the common block the view of where both sides were encamped.
We are led to believe that the battle lines stretched from near the new St Albans road way across to Hadley woods. You can imagine thousands of men in formation, waiting for the battle across a line which could take a good ten minutes to walk between.
So the scene is set. Warwick and his Lancastrians stretched east to west at the northern end of the common.
Montagu led the centre with his brother Warwick commanding a reserve force behind him with The Earl of Oxford on the right, (west), where the old Ford manor Golf course is now. The Duke of Exeter was on the left,(east), in an area near Hadley church.
We are not sure if this is correct and some believe they lined up North to South
As the Lancastrians had a larger number of men, they had the luxury of keeping a larger reserve.
Less than five minutes away Edward and his Yorkists are also spread east to west with the king in the centre. Most books on the subject of The Battle of Barnet state that Hastings was to the kings left, (west), and his young brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (later to be crowned king Richard the third), to his right.

But there is another version which states that Richard was on the left and Hastings was on the right. This is how  they lined up in the next battle in the War of the Roses (Tewkesbury) so perhaps on that fateful day in Barnet they did the same. The only thing that could go against that is it means that Richard's troops were going to get a beating that would affect the turn of the battle. And if it was Richard who was chased into Barnet how come he went back to the battle as he was seen with the king after the fighting was over.
A mystery that perhaps this site can follow up.

The great thing about the battle of Barnet is that there are many interpretations.
Every historian or writer of the battle can only surmise about what happened. But there is an account of what did occur that April day written nearer the time.
This is the "Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England and the Finall Recouerye of his Kingdomes" supposedly written by Nicholas Harpisfield, a Clerk who seems to have been present at the time.
To get a real feel of what went on you have to visit the common to see that this could not have been like any ordinary battle where two sides faced each other in a field. But more of that later when we discuss the battlefield.

          EASTER SUNDAY 14th April 1471             

The sun rose over Barnet and both sides were ready for battle.
At the rear Henry, (who Edward had brought along), was being well guarded, meaning that Barnet can boast three kings of England who stayed there that night (the Duke of Gloucester later became Richard III).

King Richard III
Gladsmuir means "grey moor" in Old English and on that spring day the weather made it seem like that by covering the common with a thick mist.
The Gunfire from the Lancastrians the previous night did little to help visibility and both sides waited until it was clear enough to start the battle. They both knew the other was not far away as soldiers prepared for the forthcoming fight.
The sounds of horses and armour and the battle cries of their leaders kept them in touch with each other in the mist.
Warwick and his knights had decided to fight on foot rather than join the battle on horseback, showing their men that they were willing to die among them.
The horses were sent to the rear. It was Edward who led the attack after he ordered no quarter, and it probably took a minute for the enemy to come face to face, swinging axes, swords and pikes at anything that appeared before them.
Men would have been hacking at each other with cries of death and pain all around, with no idea who had fallen.
It must have been horrific, like two groups of football hooligans with the right to carry weapons and to kill their rivals in the name of the king. There was no love lost between these two houses.

These are some of the weapons that the soldiers would have used as they came screaming out of the mist
Although Warwick and Montague had decided to fight on foot through the mire, the Earl of Oxford had favourable ground in front of him. He decided to stay on his horse with his heavy cavalry.
On Edwards left, Lord Hastings (Richard) had no idea he was outflanked by Oxford and it must have come as a big surprise when they were attacked from the side. Hastings (Richard's) men were not expecting such a strong force to attack them.
Panic led to them running away from the battlefield in the direction of the town.
Many were cut down as they tried to reach the horses tied up at the rear and some made it to London with cries of "The king is dead"
In battles of those days it was not unusual that when panic set in the morale would drop and many would sooner run than face the uncertainty of who they were fighting. Many a soldier changed sides half way through a battle if things were not going their way. If it had been a clear day all would have been lost as Edward's men would have seen the army on their left being chased and killed all the way to Barnet.


 When Warwick received the news of Oxford's success he must have felt he was on the verge of victory.
But he was up against a Yorkist army that had about 100 cavalry led by Edward. Yet they were still quite evenly matched. If he could get Oxford to return with his troops he could hit Edward from the rear and he would once more be nearer the crown.
The Earl should have known better than to lead the chase after Hastings(Richard) and should have swung around and attacked the Yorkist rear.
Instead his troops looted the town, probably of beer, which was better than running the risk of getting a limb cut off.
After a while Warwick sent a messenger to find Oxford and explain his delay but perhaps he was out with his men as it took him two hours to gather enough troops to become a sizeable force.
While Oxford's men were busy in town so was The Duke of Gloucester(Hastings) over on the right near Hadley woods. Although he found the ground dropping away from him(try walking down King Edward's field) and coming across boggy ground he still had not found the enemy.
To the west he could hear the sound of battle so he turned his troops towards the sound of clashing steel. They realised that because they were lined up too far to the right it had worked to their advantage. They could now attack Exeter from the side coming out of the fog to surprise them.

The mist comes down quickly in Hadley
Warwick had chosen Exeter's position as he never thought that anyone would attempt to attack through swampy ground, (remember he had had all the previous day to scout the area and decide his tactics).
The entire Lancastrian flank on the eastern side of the battlefield began falling back towards the centre of the battle field.
As Warwick was with the reserves it is possible that he was among them when they went to help Exeter.
This made a difference and the Lancastrians slowly started to push Richard's (Hasting's) men back.
At about this time,(meaning that the battle had been going on for two or three hours with neither side making a breakthrough) Oxford had collected enough troops to launch an attack to the rear of the Yorkists. With hand to hand fighting, losing and taking ground for hours, it seemed that the line of battle had now changed. Instead of the enemy facing each other from east to west, they were now hacking at each other from north to south.
This meant that where Edward's troops had been a few hours before was now occupied by Montagu's troops who had swung round during the battle.
Unfortunately no one bothered to tell Oxford and when he rode out of the mist from the town he would have been expecting to fight his enemy.
Perhaps Warwick, in his rescue of Exeter, forgot to tell his brother that Oxford was on his way and to look out for friends. So when Oxford did appear his banner was mistaken for Edward's and Montagu's archers let loose a volley of arrows that killed some of Oxfords men.

If you have read about the War of the Roses you will know that treachery played a big part at that time with noblemen changing sides and taking their armies with them. Oxford's archers fired back thinking they were being attacked by the Yorkists. When they recognised each other there was utter confusion with both sides assuming they were being betrayed.
The cry of "treachery!" was on everyone's lips and Oxford and his men fled the field thinking Montague had turned traitor. Not long before that day he had fought on the side of the king and chosen to fight with his brother because of the family ties. No one would have been surprised if he went over to the king at any time during the battle.

While Montagu's army were trying to work out who was fighting who Edward took advantage of the situation and pressed harder at the slowly faltering Lancastrian line.
The damage had been done and the panic and fear was once again there. Men threw down their weapons and ran as fast as they could to get away from the death all around them.
They scattered to the west or the north, as this would have been their best escape.
Over by Hadley church (although not built in 1471) Richard (Hastings) had started to push Exeter back across the ground they had been losing for some time as more and more Lancastrians began to desert.
The Duke of Exeter tried to rally his men as he was a brave man who would never give in.
He too had decided to fight on foot to prove to his men that he was willing to die with them or perhaps a horse would be of no use in the boggy ground. Either way he made a stand and was knocked to the ground by a heavy blow to the head.
Assumed dead his armour was taken but he wasn't recognised by the Yorkist soldiers and they left his unconscious body laying in the mud. Elsewhere on the common Montagu lay dead. No one knows how or where although some have written that he had Edwards colours beneath his armour and was killed when they were revealed. Whatever is true, it could have done no good to the rest of his army. Without their leader there was no more reason to fight and they joined the rest of the screaming masses, leaving behind the bodies of friends.

From here on the story of the Battle of Barnet becomes shrouded in theories, speculation and mystery.
Warwick must have known the Lancastrians had lost the day and that his power was slipping away.
He knew that if he was caught he would be killed, perhaps taken to the tower and executed as an example. What he might not have known was Edward's order of no quarter.
The Fact is both brothers were killed in the battle and both their bodies displayed in London the following evening on the pavement outside St. Paul's Cathedral.

The main story regarding his death is that it is marked by the Hadley Highstone, situated at the junction of Kitts End and the Great North road. The obelisk was originally erected by Sir Jeremy Sambrook around 1740, to mark the spot where Warwick was killed. The stone was moved 200 yards north to its present location in 1840. 200 yards south would mean that the original site of the monument would be near the Hadley hall which would have been roughly the area where the horses could have been.
The story goes that Warwick was fatally struck down while trying to get to one of these animals. Whether he reached his horse we will never know nor will we ever know who killed him. He was bound to have been recognised by everyone as he had fought on both sides and he wore his colours. Would a man of so many words have allowed an ordinary soldier to kill him? He was so rich that he would have been worth more alive if he was helped to escape. On the other hand a fellow nobleman would have no fears about killing someone of class and it would be obvious that a nobleman would be leading his men in the chase after the fleeing Lancastrians.

A nobleman would have recognised Warwick from a distance, (the heavy fog would have lifted by then) and made sure that he got to his target before anyone else. What is fact is that his armour was stripped from his dead body and it appears that he died from a wound to the neck. Perhaps this was an execution by a knight who wanted vengeance or had something to gain. Perhaps Richard who gained Warwick's land after his death at Barnet.

There is no doubt Warwick met his end somewhere on the common that day at,or shortly after, the end of the  battle. If he was fighting in the middle of the battle then up the present Great North road would have been his best escape route and the monument could be in the area. If he was still on the east after helping Exeter he might have had to go through some woods, in which case he never got near a horse.

News would have reached Edward of his former friend's death which might have dampened the victory.
With thousands of bodies on the common Edward and his brother left the battlefield behind them and headed through Barnet. This is where, in history books, the Battle of Barnet ends. But it was known that Edward was fond of his drink and fair to his men so we might be able to assume that many of the royal assembly quenched their thirst in one of the taverns in town before their journey back down the hill and onward to London.

On the Internet you can find about eight different maps which more or less agree about the battle site taken up by both armies. The key to where the battle took place is meant to be a hedge that runs through Old Ford golf club. It is said that Warwick hid his troops behind the hedge waiting for the king to make his appearance.
History is a great subject as, unlike today where we can film events, we have to rely on writings of the time.
These are often accounts written a few years after the event. The battle of Barnet did not have much written about it at the time. Perhaps because battles in the war of the roses came and went the importance of a particular battle is only realised years after it happened.

This is why the Battle of Barnet is unique in the wars between the two roses. It did not last long, perhaps four or five hours, and it was not the bloodiest. But the list of casualties was like no other before or after it including the battle of Bosworth, mainly remembered because of the death of King Richard III. But we had Richard at Barnet when he was an 18 year old leading grown men into battle against the might of the Lancastrians and the battle hardened Warwick. This was not a battle where both sides could see each other. Fate, more than in any other battle, won the day.

There are many variations of where Warwick and the Lancastrians set up camp on the eve of the battle.
A hedgerow that goes across the golf course has been mentioned, but nothing positive has been proven owing to the landscape changing over the years. We do know that Warwick and his troops came down Kitts End road. Although it looks quite narrow today, back then it was wide enough to take drovers with their cattle and livestock so it would have been wide enough for the thousand of troops that were heading into Barnet. Behind the houses near the common is a little track that is part of the old Kitts End Road



A couple of old shots of the memorial when people looked after it and did not treat it as a lump of stone that is permanently surrounded by fencing instead of benches where people could sit.
Clearing the battlefield would have got underway quickly in view of the warm weather and most of the dead were probably buried within a week. The carnage on the field would have been a truly appalling sight. Estimates of the number killed vary greatly, as with most 15th Century battles, but it is likely to have been between 2,000 and 3,000.
10,000 arrows were apparently collected on the field afterwards and artillery would have been left where it was abandoned. Bodies with limbs hanging off and the sound of men screaming in pain would have filled the air in Barnet. Thousand of pints of blood flowed in the ponds and the fields of the small area that the main battle took place. Most of the tales of the Battle of Barnet state that the bodies were buried in a place called " Deadman's bottom" It has also been mentioned that Lancastrian solders ran into "Deadman's" and were slaughtered. Some put the "the bottom" as being here on the Potters Bar road opposite Wrotham Park
Other stories say that it is in the top end of Hadley wood. Most of the dead were buried in grave pits on the field as the black plague was still fresh in some people minds.
The locals would have been aware that they had to clean up and be quick. Most of the bodies would have been stripped of armour and anything valuable by the Yorkists who were drifting back to London. Some of those of noble birth would be taken away to be buried with more dignity in family tombs.

There is a story that Edward paid for a chapel to be built near the site of the battle where prayers were said for those who died. Although the Lancastrians lost heavyweights such as Warwick and Montagu, the Yorkist lost far more noblemen than they had in any other battle. It is said that the chapel was built either above or near to the grave pits. The exact position was never recorded but it was mentioned during the following century in the St. Albans Abbey records, concerning repairs and maintenance.
After the Reformation the chapel was abandoned and nothing was heard about it again. Part of it is supposed to be incorporated in Pimlico House which lies beside the common.

A sword found in the Meadway that was investigated by the Museum of London.
A bronze age axe found last year to the north of Barnet and a picture of the replica arrows from the display at Barnet Museum

  The Battle of Barnet was an important battle and in this site we will be asking questions about where the battle took place and our new theory